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Explain To Me Why My Boston Butt Is Tough, Please.

Okay, I admit it. I have a problem cooking meat properly and I've convinced myself I can't. I can cook meat when you have things like ground beef that you brown for say, a pasta sauce but make a hamburger...no. I rarely cook chicken at home because I'm always afraid it is not going to be done. In fact, I'm the queen of standing under the bright light over my sink and inspecting chicken, pork and turkey for any sign of pink. But I'm working hard to overcome this block. So today I decided I'd make a Boston Butt in the oven. I came home with one that weighed 3.76 pounds. I read the instructions on the package AND called my Dad (a great cook) for advice. I preheated the oven to 350 degrees, put a little olive oil on top of the meat then seasoned it, I turned it over and put it into a shallow baking dish. I oiled and seasoned the other side. My Dad said to put some water in the dish but the instructions said not to. I decided to put water in the dish because, well, it seemed like a good idea. Then I put it in the oven to cook for 25 mins/pound. I did the math and everything to figure out how long that would be. :) BUt here may be my downfall. The instructions said to put it in the oven UNCOVERED but my Dad said to COVER it. I left it uncovered. I cooked it for the required time, took it out and let it rest for about 15 minutes. Then, because I wanted to pull it apart for what I will call BBQ (I made a sauce that turned out good), I dug into it. It seemed tough. It was. I worked at it and pulled it apart with the help of a knife. THEN part of it was pink. Toward the middle of the thing. I kept thinking about how long it had been in the oven and it should be done but I can't bring myself to eat pork that looks undercooked. SO I avoided that part. I put the shredded pieces in a bowl and poured a little of the liquid that was in the baking dish on top of the meat to kind of moisten it a bit. I served myself and found the meat to be tough and under-seasoned. I am disappointed. I ate it and I have the leftovers in the fridge and I'll finish it up but what is the deal? Why can't I cook meat? Be gentle with me. I'm trying. I want to understand. I guess I just don't get meat cookery.

Thanks in advance for any help.

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  1. Your butt was just not cooked as low and slow and long as it needed to be for pulled type pork. That is a big piece of meat as in it is like a soccerball and not a loaf pan (bear with me)..... As a really simple method you could do it either in the crockpot for many hours (google pulled pork in crockpot) or even in the oven covered. Use a rub or just BBQ sauce. 325 or even 300 in the oven would probably take 5 hours at least; the crockpot all day. This kind of pork is taken well beyond the official done temp. You are breaking down connective tissue to allow the pulling thing. As for the olive oil rub, this cut should be fatty through-out so no need in my opinion for more oil. It is craving moist, slow, low heat.

    1 Reply
    1. re: torty

      I admit the olive oil was my idea, not my Dad's. :(

    2. Boston butt is a cut that benefits from braising. When I cook it, I do it low and slow in my crockpot for several hours until it falls apart on its own. Your dad's advice to add a little water and cover it was correct. Roasting just doesn't work for this cut.

      3 Replies
      1. re: northside food

        I normally do mine in the crock too. Very Easy, some seasoning, I like something other than just water, a little broth or wine or even beer makes a great cooking liquid. A bay leaf, s/p and I like a quartered onion for some flavor. I have a all purpose seasoning which has paprika, onion powder, garlic, etc. I like to rub that on the meat as well. Turn on hi and come back 8 hours later maybe 10 depending on the size. It will fall apart and great flavor and so easy.

        1. re: kchurchill5

          I do use the crock pot and coo meat in there frequently but everything starts to taste the same to me. Everything has a "cooked in a crock pot" taste that I can't really explain. I know that doesn't really make sense.

          1. re: Boudleaux

            True, I don't make too much, stock I enjoy making in it. Also a few things now and then. I just made a fruit and cheese stuffed pork tenderloin with a port wine glaze which was good but I use it mostly when I know I am working all day and don't have time.

            Braising in the oven is great and preferred if you have the time.

      2. (Started this reply and then lost it. Dang.)

        Okay, sweetpea, let's throw out everything your dear dad or anyone else ever told you about cooking meat :) With a pork shoulder, which I believe is close to a Boston butt, long and low is the answer, especially for a pulled pork, shredded kinda result. Here's arecipe of Will Owen's that's my total go-to:

        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/582610

        Although it's for a much larger roast (and I've done much smaller) it's good reading. Read all his comments as he addresses internal temp. Because the first thing you're going to do is use *White-Out* on that so many minutes per pound concept. Internal temp is the only way to go, in my opinion. Also ignore USDA recs of 160 degrees and go with 145 max.

        I also regularly use my slow cooker for pork roasts for carnitas, etc. An indispensable tool in my kitchen.

        Also you might want to go to chow.com and look at some of their *basic* recipes.

        I cook pork tenderloin also in the oven, stovetop and the grill. Always go for that internal temp. Get yourself a good basic cookbook.

        I'm using a kind shotgun approach here but you're gonna love your next pork roast that's cooked to the right temp and using the right technique. Also search this board and you'll find MANY tips and recipes.

        Please cook something else --- SOON --- and report back, okay???

        6 Replies
        1. re: c oliver

          Um, you don't cook pork shoulder (arm or butt cuts) to only 145F - that's the correct temperature for leaner loin or leg roasts. Pork shoulder, like beef chuck, has to be cooked to a much higher temperature (long and slow) before the collagen begins to liquify. For pork shoulder, that's something more like 185F+ (a little higher for beef chuck). Until you get to that point, the meat will be tough (and, if you try to cook it too fast, the muscle will simply overcook and prevent the collagen from liquifying).

          1. re: Karl S

            Oh, yikes, I was getting ahead of myself! Definitely the pork shoulder goes WAY high --- 190 plus. I was thinking about tenderloins and just got ahead of myself. Thanks as usual, KS.

          2. re: c oliver

            Awwww...you called me Sweetpea. Thanks for being gentle but, yikes! Throw out everything my Dad told me about cooking meat?? Aggghhh!

            Thanks for the link. I will read it. I have 8 million cookbooks so that part is taken care of. Don't get me wrong, I cook. Regularly. I just have some kind of mental block about meat. I either cook the heck out of it or not enough.

            I'm going to keep trying but I thought I'd question my fellow hounds to figure out what I'm doing wrong. I want to understand.

            1. re: Boudleaux

              #1: buy a meat thermometer
              #2: ignore your dad
              #3: believe those 8 million cookbooks. They get published for a reason :)

              BTW, pork that has a little pink tinge (not the low and slow stuff - forgive my booboo) is generally what you're looking for. There's really no danger any more (for decades actually) of trichinosis in commercial pork.

              1. re: c oliver

                #1 I have a meat thermometer
                #2 No, I won't ignore my Dad. He's a great cook. I chose not to take all his advice (and even bought a different cut of meat than he suggested). Besides he was right.
                #3 I believe the cookbooks but that doesn't help with meat-cooking talent.

                Thanks for your help. :) I've learned a lot.

                1. re: Boudleaux

                  #1 - then use it religiously for cooking meat
                  #2 - No, he wasn't right. It wouldn't have been what you wanted even if you'd followed his directions. It might have been done but you wouldn't have been shredding THAT meat.
                  #3 - MY cookbooks give me almost all the help I need for cooking everything, including meat. So if your 8 mil don't, then get at least one that does.

          3. coliver is correct. You need to cook this baby low and slow. Some moisture is good. in fact, I would probably put what is left of the meat into the oven on a low temperature and let it continue to cook. Maybe with some liquid in the bottom of the pan so that the meat braises a bit.

            1. Okay, so crockpots aside, could I have used a pork loin roast for this?

              Thanks for the replies, folks. Any thoughts on "saving" it at this point?

              7 Replies
              1. re: Boudleaux

                You have some sauce. Good. Slather the sauce over the remaining pork while the pork is in a heavy oven-safe casserole. Put the pork into a 250º oven and let it cook, covered, for hours. You could also consider adding a little tomato, wine, herbs and vinegar to the pan if that complements your sauce.d

                1. re: smtucker

                  Okay, thanks so much for this, smtucker!

                2. re: Boudleaux

                  "Okay, so crockpots aside, could I have used a pork loin roast for this?"

                  SIR! STAND AWAY FROM THE PORK LOIN! DO NOT TOUCH THE PORK LOIN!

                  How's that for an answer? No pork loin has ever had what it takes to do the low-and-slow break-down-the-tissues kind of cooking, and today's tragically lean babies just barely make it into the "edible" category, poor things. Think FAT, think WORKING MUSCLE, think CONNECTIVE TISSUE, all of which have to be seduced into a semi-fluid state. I would have seared it in fat (olive oil works fine) first of all, then added some broth or wine or whatever - not more than half a cup - and clamped the lid on and put it into a slow oven, maybe 250º-275º. The upside here is that (1) you're getting some good advice about how to save this thing you barely allowed to get hot through, and (2) pork shoulder is about as cheap as good meat gets, so you can probably afford to try again. Hell, how many of these things you reckon I've screwed up? And then figured out how to unscrew?

                  1. re: Will Owen

                    Hey, WO, why don't you tell us how you really feel???? To the OP, I would repeat that WO's pork shoulder roast is THE best I've ever done. And you can modify it by size and whatever flavorings you want. I'm 62 y..o. and have thrown out all other preps for this cut. Go, Will.

                    1. re: c oliver

                      I appreciate all the appreciation, but I really have to reiterate what I've iterated before: this recipe was a product of the LA Times test kitchen, a wonderful institution for whose future I deeply worry (since the parent enterprise is in the hands of bottom-line slimeballs). They will typically cook a huge number of whatever they're investigating, whether it's pork chops or whole turkeys, and report thoroughly and faithfully on the results. Best of all, they aren't a bunch of wonky nutritionists, but dedicated cooks and serious food freaks.

                      To c oliver: don't ever throw out any working recipe! You might just need to tweak it with something you've learned from another one. I'm getting damn close to 70 myself, and most of what I know about handling meat (or just about any foodstuff) I've learned in the last ten years.

                      1. re: Will Owen

                        Well, I was exagerating slightly :) But *I* haven't cooked pork shoulder any other way since December 2008. I did leave out the crushed chiles recently when fixing for a weinie :) Just in case.

                    2. re: Will Owen

                      Thank you, Will. I've always enjoyed reading your posts and I appreciate your input here.

                  2. Cooking meat isn't hard. In fact, it's easy. But you need to master the fundamentals first. Learn to walk before you try to dance.

                    Your problem is that you have too much information, not too little. Your cookbook and your dad and your friend and your butcher are probably all making good suggestions, but the suggestions don't necessarily have anything to do with each other. And when you pick and choose among the bits of advice you're getting without any real grasp of why people are suggesting different things, your results are going to be less than ideal.

                    There are lots of ways to cook meat. Braising, roasting, smoking (hot and cold), poaching / boiling, grilling / broiling, sauteing, pan-frying, deep-frying - they all have their place. But you can't take some of the steps from a braise and some of the steps from a roast and some of the steps from a saute, throw them together, and expect dinner to turn out well. You need to have a coherent strategy when approaching a cut of meat. And "it seemed like a good idea" is not a coherent strategy.

                    If one of your 8 million cookbooks is Julia Child's "The Way to Cook," Jaques Pepin's "Complete Techniques," or a similar technique-oriented book, then keep it out and put the other 7,999,999 in storage. If not, put them all in storage and buy one of those books posthaste. Then find a recipe for a basic roast. Or saute. Or broil. Before you even head out to the butcher shop, read the recipe carefully, including the section about ***why*** it calls for you to do things.

                    Next - and this is the hard part for me - follow the instructions to the letter. Don't substitute a cross-rib roast for a rib roast because it's on sale. Don't set the oven at 400 instead of 300 because you're in a hurry. Don't substitute cider vinegar for red wine vinegar or olive oil for butter or Mrs. Dash for kosher salt or add capers or chiles because you like them. You can improvise once you know what you're doing; for now, work on mastering the basics.

                    In order to master the recipe, make it as many times as it takes to get it just right. And pay attention; there's nothing wrong with making mistakes, but if you don't learn from them you're just wasting food.

                    Use that meat thermometer. Take the temperature of a beef roast while it's in the oven, and pay attention to what happens after it comes out. Leave the thermometer in and see what the temp is right before you carve; if 140F is too done (or too rare) for your tastes, you've just learned something that you can apply across all cuts of beef. Chicken is safe to eat once it hits 155, although the texture is better around 160-165. A little pink at the bone is not a problem. And you don't have to cook pork until all the pink is gone; I prefer cuts like loin and tenderloin just past medium-rare - about 145F.

                    As for your Boston Butt: it's tough because you didn't cook it long enough. This cut has a lot of connective tissue, which is going to be fairly unpleasant to eat - right up to the point where it melts and turns into lip-smacking goodness. That happens somewhere north of 180F. So the trick is to get the inside of the meat to that point as gently as possible.

                    You can do this a number of ways; a smoker, a crock pot, and an oven would all work equally well. Now that you've cut it up you're probably better going with a method that keeps the meat covered and uses a little moisture, but dry heat does wonderful things to a whole shoulder. Regardless, low heat is generally better than high heat for this kind of cooking, so try to keep the temp around 250F. Pick a method and let the meat cook until the coolest spot is 190-200F. It will be unctuous and falling-apart tender. Guaranteed.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: alanbarnes

                      Wow, thank you for typing all of that. I really appreciate the effort. Lots of great information here. I think I've really just convinced myself that I can't cook meat and I approach it like that every time. Maybe I should just start with trying to roast a chicken and go from there.

                      Okay, maybe I don't have 8 million cookbooks but, yes, one of them is Julia's "The Way to Cook." :)

                      Thanks again.

                      1. re: Boudleaux

                        alanbarnes has a special affinity for meat. Good idea to listen to him. :-)

                        1. re: smtucker

                          You are SO correct. Alan's one of my gods also

                        2. re: Boudleaux

                          "Roasting the Whole Bird" - pages 161-165. She takes you from the first thrust of the trussing needle through carving the last bit of meat off the carcass.

                        3. re: alanbarnes

                          I agree with alanbarnes - you are picking and choosing methods without any real understanding of how different cuts of meat behave. Sometimes the more research you do, the more confused you become. Go back to basics, definitely. I'd suggest mastering a roast chicken first, then a lean cut like steak or tenderloin. Generally, the fattier and tougher (and cheaper) the meat, the longer you need to cook it for, and the lower the temperature.

                          I also cooked my first pork shoulder over the weekend. It was about 9-10 pounds, bone-in, and I cooked it at a very low temperature (110C) for 14 hours. I kept testing it with a meat thermometer and removed it from the oven when the temperature hit 190F - it was perfect. Your 25 mins per pound is probably a rough guide for leaner cuts of pork.

                          For meat, I like this book, but it's British.

                          http://www.amazon.co.uk/River-Cottage...

                          1. re: greedygirl

                            Yes, I think you are right. I don't understand how different cut of meat behave at all. Thanks!

                            1. re: greedygirl

                              I absolutely LOVE the River Cottage Meat Book.

                              Boudleaux, I would highly recommend picking it up if you have any questions/concerns/fears about cooking meat.

                            2. re: alanbarnes

                              Great advice.
                              I would add that some need to be clear about whether they are talking about the external temperature (cooking temperature of oven or pot), or the internal temperature of the meat. Low and slow temperatures might be nearly equal (and possibly confusing to cooking newbies), while, on the other end of the spectrum, roasting a small chicken quickly at 450 F oven temperature to get a nice crisp exterior and barely cooked interior of 160 F or, cooking a rare steak with a cool center (120 F) with a 600-800 F grill, would be hard to confuse.

                            3. Dad was actually right when he told you to add liquid and cover the pan.

                              You need to cook a butt/shoulder (same thing) LOW and SLOW. Think 250 oven for 6 hours or until it is falling apart. Time depends on poundage.

                              9 Replies
                              1. re: C. Hamster

                                as with most things cooking-related, there's no right and wrong with regard to adding liquid for a braising effect. pork butts are cooked all over the world every day without additional moisture.

                                the shoulder consists of the butt and the picnic. they are similar, but not the same. i prefer the butt.

                                as most people have stated, cook the thing the at least 190 degrees. i prefer cooking butts to 205, as they'll fall apart and all of the collagen has ample time to melt. at 190, you'll likely have to slice thing.

                                1. re: tommy

                                  I agree - I only use 185F if you let the aftercooking take place, which might raise the temperature another 10F. I too have cooked to 205 with the best results, but those were also less lean. The most important thing is to monitor the actual texture towards the end of cooking, regardless of a final target temp.

                                  1. re: tommy

                                    Braising, by definition, is cooking with liquid added.

                                    1. re: C. Hamster

                                      i understand what braising is. i'm saying there's no need to braise this cut, or add liquid to what was apparently an uncovered pan.

                                      1. re: tommy

                                        "as with most things cooking-related, there's no right and wrong with regard to adding liquid for a braising effect. "

                                        Okay. But IMO dry cooking doesn't really get you a "braising effect."

                                        Persoanlly, I think you get best results with an oven-cooked pork butt if you do braise it, but I agree, you don't have to.

                                        1. re: C. Hamster

                                          I wasn't saying dry cooking = braising, and that should be clear when i said: "i understand what braising is. i'm saying there's no need to braise this cut, or add liquid to what was apparently an uncovered pan.".

                                          I was saying there's no reason to braise this cut. Let's try this: "as with most things cooking-related, there's no right and wrong with regard to adding liquid to cook a butt in order to get a braising effect. pork butts are cooked all over the world every day without additional moisture."

                                          Now, of course, it's easy to make the argument that covering a 7 pound piece of pork will indeed create a braising effect via the liquid that is released from the meat itself, but that's ancillary to my point that there's no reason to braise a pork butt. I cooked two this weekend with nothing but fire (although there was some water in the smoker's pan for a part of the cooking).

                                          1. re: tommy

                                            OMG! You cooked it exposed, over fire?!? ;)

                                            I love a pork butt stew dish where you cook it covered, but until it's done the only added moisture comes from romaine lettuce leaves and 1/4 cup of lemon juice. Perhaps there's a little coming from the onions and dill.
                                            You finish by adding cream to the juices and cooking it down a bit.

                                            1. re: tommy

                                              I have an ancient water smoker in which I've cooked three butts so far, and my only problem has been keeping the fire hot enough, since the ashes tend to clog the vents in the fire pan. In spite of this, the meat has always been totally delicious - not as succulent as the braised version, of course, but good in a different kind of way. I've also had a lot of genuine wood-fired barbecue pork shoulder, again of course with only dry heat to cook it, and much of that was meltingly tender as well as fiercely flavorful.

                                              1. re: Will Owen

                                                Probably been said many times before, butt pork butt roast is one of the best combinations of flavor, fat and meat on the hog that there is.
                                                Then there's ribs....

                                  2. Bravo, Boudleaux, for providing detailed information as to what exactly you did and what the results were! It can be hard to help people who post things like: "My stew came out bland. What did I do wrong?"

                                    1. Boudleaux,

                                      Are you cooking the BB with the fat side up? The side that has a solid fat structure. The heavy fat side will drain fat down that cook through the meat.

                                      Other advice, l do leave uncovered, never never never add water. Let the fat keep it moist. The water is what caused your butt to cook slower.

                                      I have cooked lots of pork, professional and personal. Boston Butts are what I use 90% of the time. Honestly I smoke a lot more than I crock pot or grill. Usely because I am cooking large amounts. I use the oven when I am only do a couple butts. My process is to use a dry rub a lot, rubbing it everywhere! I leave uncovered for the first few hours and if I have too much time to cook I then cover later to store fat in. I do like to elevate out ot the dish, if you leave down in fat it will form a grey wet fatty type of pulled pork, good and juicey but low on flavor. So short: start uncovered, fat side up, 1/2 hour per pound, extreme rub, elevated, then cover and let finish.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: coachknight

                                        Thanks for the information, coachknight!

                                      2. "Then I put it in the oven to cook for 25 mins/pound"

                                        Cutting to the chase, this is the problem. 3.76 pounds times 25 min/pound = 94 minutes. That is not long enough for that piece of meat. Please strive to better understand the meaning of the slogan 'low and slow'. This will provide the key to the solution for you.